Within the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Act (LURA) are a number of national-level changes that should support housing delivery.
Amendments to S38 elevate the status of national policy in the determination of applications and appeals. This should have a positive effect on the decision-making process and outcomes particularly where Local Plans are not compliant, in which case accordance with the national framework will trump any breach of local policy.
It can also be read as a shift towards more central governance on key matters of principle and a stimulus for local authorities to progress Local Plan reviews more quickly focussed on matters of specific local interest. Of course, much will depend on the content of the National Development Management Policy framework to understand how effective this shift will be in achieving positive outcomes for our clients on matters such as housing delivery but in general we welcome this key change.
Of note is that “Supplementary Plans” will form part of the development plan rather than being treated as material considerations. These will be subject to consultation and examination and hence the process should be more rigorous and robust than current arrangements. The plans could be topic or site based (such as the current SPDs on matters such as affordable housing, area masterplan frameworks etc) and cover Design Codes, which have been introduced as a statutory requirement of future development plans.
This approach will have the effect of heightening the policy control of design quality which is a very subjective area particularly when it comes to housing development. However, we have a national policy basis that already strives to achieve high design standards that are locally relevant in collaboration with local authorities and communities and there is a clear advantage commercially and from a community perspective in bringing forward high-quality, well-designed schemes. Other than potential delays to the plan making process, we view the strengthening of these provisions relating to design quality to be a helpful addition without being particularly onerous.
In terms of local plan reviews generally, we expect delays in the short term whilst secondary provisions are brought into force next year and as local authorities adapt to new requirements.
Beyond this, the review process should be improved with a relevant person appointed by the Secretary of State to oversee matters and review content at key gateway points. Greater powers of intervention will also enable the Secretary of State to direct progress of a compliant plan to examination and prevent local authorities from unilaterally withdrawing plans that are undergoing examination at a time when housing delivery must continue to be a national priority.
Finally, we are delighted to see that the efforts of the senior living sector in lobbying central government have paid off and that local authorities will be required to adequately plan for housing needs that arise from old age and disability in response to guidance from the Secretary of State. This is a very welcome new requirement that should go a long way to elevate the importance of sustainable growth in this area.